Wednesday, November 25, 2009

650 V Star Seat Mod

So being of creative mind and shallow wallet, I decided to modify the seat that came on my bike instead of buying a more comfortable one. It worked out great, and since a friend had the tools I needed all it cost me was the price of some glue.

I went from taking a pain-in-my-ass break every 50-70 miles to easily being able to make it "tank to tank" (not having to stop until I need gas) - about 150 miles - and still not be sore.

Here's a shot of what it looked like before I got started. (I had already modified it once, and had forgotten to take pictures. This time I was tweaking and perfecting it. Maybe I can get someone else to hook me up with a matching angle shot of a stock seat for comparison.)
Note the bulge in front of the seams, and the height of the center of the seat.

My method is fairly simple to do, but it does take a little confidence and a steady hand.

Tools needed:
An electric grinder, with a sanding wheel attached
Screwdriver/pliers for removing staples
A stapler, with 1/4" or 3/8" staples
(A small hammer might not hurt, it's difficult to get the staples into the hard plastic)
I used 3M Super 77 spray glue, which is a great product. However, currently there is a spot in the "bowl" of my seat where the vinyl comes up a little when it gets warmed up in the sun. 3M also makes a spray glue that is specifically for rubber, foam and vinyl - which I discovered after I did this job unfortunately - that would probably do a better job. If you can find a canned, brush-on glue for rubber and vinyl it would make the recovering part less of a hassle than a spray.

You should use an old, used sanding disk on the grinder. A new one will remove material too quickly and you may cut deeper than you mean to. If you don't have an old one, make it... find something fun to grind a new wheel on for a little while to smooth it down, like maybe your neighbors yard gnome.

You begin obviously enough, removing the seat from the bike, pulling all the staples underneath and carefully peeling the vinyl cover off. There will still be a layer and small chunks of foam rubber glued to the cover. For a nice, smooth final product, and so the glue will stick better, you wanna clean as much of that off as you can.
Underneath the vinyl is a thin plastic ring covering the foam under the seams. I'm of the opinion that this is useless: the fabric backing of the vinyl causes a wicking effect, so the foam rubber will wind up wet anyway; then the plastic makes it harder for it to dry. Just discard it.

Also, if the foam rubber happens to be wet, set it in the sun or something to dry completely before you get started. Anywhere there's a wet spot it won't grind as easily, which could give you uneven results.

To save some time and trouble, I then mounted the seat back onto the bike. This is useful because you will periodically be sitting on the seat to check the fit, plus it holds the seat nice and firmly.
However... do it this way at your own risk. I was completely confident in my ability to control the tool, but you WILL be using a powerful grinding tool very close to your precious motorcycle. If you don't want to do it this way, find some other way to hold the seat firmly when you're doing the work on it... maybe a partner who's fingers aren't as valued as your chrome and paint can hold it for you.

As you can see in this picture, the indention in the foam from the seam of the cover provides a nice line to go by for getting both sides of the seat pretty symmetrical. My intent was to eliminate the bulge right at that point, making it so the seat-bowl would turn inward right at the seam instead of above it. (I figured the seam was the best "bending point" in the cover.)

I then used a Sharpie (OK, it was generic) to make a reference line right down the center of the cushion.

Now you'll begin sculpting your seat with the grinder. You may want to practice just a little on some similar foam to get your technique down (depending on the direction your grinder spins, one side of the wheel will be easier to control than the other - I find that it's easier for me if the wheel is pulling the machine away from me rather than pushing it toward me). Don't worry too much at the beginning though, you'll be taking a lot of foam out of the seat, so a little gouge at the beginning will disappear by the time you're through. I removed at least a good 2 inches of foam from most of my seat (the wider portion).

The sculpting method I used was to grind and shape downward into the seat, and then "smooth" it back into the back, rising portion.

Grinding down/shaping:

Smoothing back:

I had in my mind a model of a horse saddle, both in design and function.
People tend to think an uncomfortable seat isn't soft enough, but if you think about it "soft" is just a generic way to make a seat "one size fits all." What's better than soft is shaped like your butt. Horse saddles aren't soft at all, but when one has been riding a good saddle for years it becomes shaped like the rider. If a chair was shaped exactly like your butt, it could practically be made of wood and it would still be comfortable.

Part of that mental model was the slight rise down the center of the seat.

All in all, this was a very gradual and patient process. I would grind the left side down a little, using the center line and the right side for reference, make the right side match it, then sit on it. I had the sidestand on a brick to hold the bike mostly upright, so I could balance and put both feet up on the pegs to check the riding position.
I would note where it felt like pressure points were and then repeat the process a little more.

More foam ground away...

I also kept feeling the rear portion of the cushion for thickness. I was trying to move my riding position down and back, and like I said, "cushion" wasn't so much a priority, but I didn't want to wind up grinding through it. At the end, I was left with about 1" of cushion at the thinnest point (which was at the back... there's still lots of cushion on the bottom).

I ground the back to smooth the whole thing, to the point where it was almost, but not quite, vertical, and went to the seam mark, but not past it. Again, I stopped grinding and sat on it a few times while I was doing this.

I should also mention that a couple of times I also removed the seat from the bike and checked the fitment of the cover.

Here's a shot of where I stopped just short of the seam, you can see where the arrow and one mark from the previous picture are gone:

And one more good one showing the bottom and back, pretty much finished... nice and smooth! You can see that the front of the hump is still pretty much where it was to begin with:

At this point I decided that as far as the looks, I thought the hump was a little too much. I ground some more off, and this is my completed sculpture before I put the cover back on:

And one more, from the same angle as a picture above, showing the difference in the hump:

And now I'll criticize that last decision:
Frankly, the seat was slightly more comfortable before I ground off a bit more of the hump. The hump wasn't so much something I could feel, but somehow it did help to push my butt back into the seat a little more. Just something to keep in mind as you design your own.

Recovering is rather a tedious pain in the ass (but worth it for the pain in it that's relieved by the whole process).

You need to spray both sides (the vinyl and the foam rubber) with the glue for it to stick best, and Super 77 sticks very quickly. As you probably noticed when you pulled off the cover to begin with, the whole thing doesn't need to be glued, just the top portion... or the part that's encircled by the seam.
Take your time. I strongly recommend gluing it a strip at a time, spraying (or brushing, much easier) about a 2 or 3" stripe and positioning it before spraying another. This way you'll keep from A. having parts stick that you aren't working on yet - making the whole thing harder to work with, and B. getting glue all over your hands - making the whole thing harder to work with.

With a little trial and error I found that I got my best result working from the front back (it's narrower so you start with less glue there), and then from the center out. Since the front was modified the least, you can put that part on almost exactly like it was before (the front is just a puzzle piece, with the rest you just re-cut half the pieces and have to do some figuring-out) and even put a couple of staples in it.
Stretch it good and press it in toward the center, the deepest part of the "bowl," making sure to put plenty of glue there (it's really taut across there, and, well, bowl-shaped) and then work it upward and outward toward the seam. I found that it went up and straight over the back with minimal difficulty, but then getting the sides tight and wrinkle-free took a bit more effort. The more you can manage to glue from the center - outward the easier it will be. There's another indention across the top/back of the cushion from the seam that's there... if you get the front on good, then the middle of the bowl, then that back seam, you're off to a frustration-minimized start.

After that you're ready to start stapling.

I'll warn you now, it can get a little frustrating. The plastic is very hard, and the angles available to work from are inopportune at best, obstacles at worst. A hammer helps once you get them started, but since you're trying to whack on an inverted cushion it can still be a little cumbersome. I suggest gripping the hammer, or finding something else convenient, and using it to push the staples in once they're started.
Pull it nice and taut, and put plenty of staples in it. Wherever you wind up with thick wrinkles, staple around it first, cut a slit in it, and staple it down as layers instead of a wrinkle. You may find that with some attention to detail you can get it on there better than the guy at the factory did it.

Here's a shot of the completed product (with a repeat of the first picture for a close comparison) :

And a before and after profile shot:

You can see the difference at the seams and the studs, but the most significant difference is the scooped-out bowl into which my narrow butt comfortably nestles on a long ride.
And see...
Photobucket looks like it came that way.
Until you put it next to - or sit on - a stock V Star 650. (Especially a new one... yuck.)

Three special notes:

1. With this modification, and another free one that lowered the rear end 3 1/2", the seat height of this bike is now at just 24 1/2". This means that this could be a strongly recommended bike and modification combination for any shorter brothers or sisters out there looking for a comfortable motorcycle. The lowered center of gravity and riding position also make this bike very easy to control.

B. I stopped where I did because it was pretty much (see the next note) where I wanted it to be and because I didn't want the studs to visually go any lower. If your seat has no studs, and you want to, I believe you could go a lot farther with this mod. I've removed a lot of foam rubber from this cushion and the stock cover still fits what I'd call "perfect with a little difficulty (read: elbow grease)." I also left very much a "bowl" shape to it, with the sides of the saddle almost where they were originally. I believe that the following differences from my shape/design can also be accomplished and still have the stock cover "look right":
The sides can be carved away/out more, creating more of a stretched-out "C" than a "bowl," for wider butts than mine (mine's admittedly, umm, lacking in bulbousness). This one can probably be done with a studded seat.
The bottom of my seat still has a lot of foam rubber. If you wanted to go for a more old-school, much flatter look, you could carve the cushion right down to where my studs are and still have more padding than a springer seat. The stock 650 seat has a good 4" of padding (top to bottom) - I removed about 2" - while the back of the bucket (the plastic frame of the seat) has weird shapes that have to be worked around, the bottom is flat, so you could easily take away another inch if you were so inclined.
For either of these, I haven't tested them. I would recommend stopping periodically to make sure the cover still fits the way you want it to, but I see no reason it won't (the seam might start looking a little out of place).

And lastly, but most importantly, that old ragged pair of shoes didn't become your favorite overnight. Over time they've become shaped "just right" for your feet and the way you walk. You're trying to recreate that for your buttocks. Don't be afraid to get it "good enough" this time, put a few hundred miles on the bike, and then repeat the whole process. In fact, go ahead and plan on it. I've done mine twice already, and was already planning this time to do it once more before I call it finished.
I believe that with a stock seat and a few creative hours of your time you can make a seat that's at least as comfortable as any $350 aftermarket replacement. Remember, that $350 seat is still made to fit everyone, not you, and I don't think any modern seats will gradually shape to you like a good saddle.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

On Propaganda I

So I just read on a forum about someone who had their car broken into in a Walmart parking lot.

The police were of course involved, and they called him later and informed him that it probably wasn't caught on tape. It was too dark and far out in the parking lot.

I'll let you know right from the start that the point of this isn't to bash Walmart. I'll do that in another blog if the mood strikes me, but to be honest I'm not even sure how I feel about The Big W. I don't shop there, but that's because I prefer to pay a bit more for quality that lasts than to just acquire a bunch of cheap stuff, not because of any particular "politics" regarding them. (Though I do also try to buy things produced locally, as in at least American, whenever possible, and it's not very possible at that particular store.)
My point is to demonstrate a concept, and let you think about it for yourself.

I'm sure you've noticed there are a lot of cameras on top of a Walmart, pointing out at the parking lot. They're not exactly hidden, they're featured almost as prominently as the "Walmart" sign itself. I've never actually counted them (though I'm sure I will now), but there are at least a dozen, if not even 20 or more on the larger stores. I haven't noticed any in the parking lot, just on the roof pointing into it. I'll get back to that.

While I may not know exactly how many I've seen atop any particular store, I do know I've thought they were more than enough to cover the entire parking lot. At least angle-wise anyway.

I did find myself surprised that this crime wasn't caught by one of those cameras, which gets me wondering...
Why wouldn't such an obviously "expansive" security video system catch something in the area it's designed to be watching?
Is it somehow inadequate? Are the cameras not good enough to capture decent video from the distances involved in a large parking lot?
I think that a company like Walmart could afford to design and build their security systems using decent enough equipment to get the job done.
Obviously they can afford to make a security system "adequate," and isn't it also obvious that it's in their best interest to do so? (I certainly imagine if you steal something inside the store their security system is more than adequate.)
And, if the quality/distance capability of the cameras is an issue, why have them all on top of the building instead of having some of them out on light posts in the parking lot?

I also would like to add that it's well known that we have cameras today that can capture plenty of detail with very limited light. And it's quite well lit in the average Walmart parking lot (or any other, really).

So, why would one install an inadequate security video camera system? I mean, why bother?

Why would one also have one security system that's very overt, but apparently at least a little bit inadequate, and have another security system, perhaps in another location (like inside the store) that's subtle if not invisible?

If you've never thought about why security video monitoring systems tend to be almost, if not entirely, invisible, one simple reason is that it makes one more effective (at the very least as a deterrent). It prevents those with nefarious intent from easily finding locations where they can be off camera.

If security cameras are more effective in general when they're invisible, why have a whole bunch of them that are very obvious?

This brings me back to the fact that in our model parking lot, none of the cameras are out in the lot. They're all on top of the building.
That you're walking toward from the parking lot.
On your way to spend your money in a store that you trust to deal with you honestly. Stores need that trust, and can't really live without it. The more you trust them, the more you'll shop with them instead of their competitor.
As you walk toward the store, your focus is drawn upward toward that big sign (don't be fooled, they're all meticulously designed to do that), and while it's there your subconscious can't help also noticing all those cameras pointing out toward where your precious car is. "Ahhh." Your conscious notices them too, they're very obvious. In fact, you might have even noticed that they're a lot larger than even the cheapest cameras they sell inside, but you forget that quickly as you go over your shopping list in your head.

Your subconscious, however, doesn't really forget much. Or at least not that quickly.
Also, while you consciously "dismiss" lots of things (by very important design), your subconscious absorbs most things (more than you consciously realize... get it?), and what is absorbed must usually be interpreted in some way.

Those of a criminal mindset interpret the image of those cameras as "they're watching me."
But the rest of us will tend to interpret them, since these in particular are pointed toward where we have left our precious belongings, as "they're watching my stuff." We get a slight sense of being "watched over."
Whether you consciously realize it or not, some part of you is saying, "this is a safe place for me to leave my stuff while I go about my business."
"This place has been thoughtful enough to provide that for me."
"*bing* Chalk one up for this place."
This is perfectly natural.

But what if this impression is created falsely? Your subconscious, which plays a major role in your decision making, doesn't know the difference.
What if it's created by an image of a system that's shown itself in this one instance to be inadequate?
What if that system is just for show? The fact that most if not all of the cameras in this particular model are obvious and almost featured as one is entering the establishment could certainly lean sway onto such an impression.
What if most or all of those cameras weren't even on?

Is this a *scary voice* "big conspiracy?"
Not really. It should be fairly obvious that it is in a business' best interest to create as many of these "good feelings" about their business, these little influences on your decision making processes, as possible. All businesses do it, or fail.

The "old fashioned way," the way a business scored my Grandfather's loyalty, was through "good value and honest dealin's." (Which I think is crucial to a society's business sense and economy.)

What I find I'm seeing more and more, and the point I'm trying to get across here, is that many of our impressions these days are being created falsely.
A corporation's responsibility to itself is to profit as much as it possibly can. Often that means that the Bottom Line is more important to it than whether or not some of its methods are philosophically* "wrong."
One of your responsibilities to yourself, as a consumer, should be to ensure that any outside influences that you allow to affect your decisions are truthful ones. It's not in your interest to be deceived.

Ask yourself, "why" would any particular company seek to create at least one favorable impression through a dishonest means, a facade perhaps?
Such a thing, in a "perfect" business society, shouldn't be necessary.
Quality goods and services do tend to sell themselves. And speak for themselves.

A "good" store doesn't need to try to tell you that it's a good store as you're walking in the door.
The number of cool neon signs in the window aren't what make a good bar.
A good comedian doesn't tell you he's funny.

All I'm saying is that when you notice deceptive practice that's designed to give you a false good impression of a place that wants your money, perhaps it's worth looking a little deeper into the rest of their practices before you keep giving it to them.
Maybe they're just trying to boost your impression of their upstanding and moral, family owned since 1874 company.
Or maybe they're trying to score points against you realizing that, for whatever reason(s), you really would rather not be shopping there.

Look, here's a disclaimer!
I'm in no way picking on Walmart here, hence my use of the word "model" after the first few paragraphs.
In all fact it may wind up that this incident was caught on camera after all, or bird poop on a camera lense or something. I don't care, really, it's just what got me thinking.

The point is to provoke thought about deception in advertising/marketing/business identity, and the why of it.
There's a lot of it out there, I believe we're overwhelmed by it, and I plan on exploring a lot of it here as I see it and think about it. "The why," if you read between the lines, will be a major underlying theme.

And let's face it, we've created an environment in which the only way in which a "corporation" needs concern itself with right or wrong is philosophically.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Saga, part 3

My short weekend with Chris went the way it always goes when I stop by for a day or two.

We drank a bit. I had good beers, he sampled them and had good Scotch. We watched really terrible B movies. And we talked. A lot.

When I met Chris, he already had tattoos at 17, and had a mohawk over 13 inches long in a town where guys didn't have mohawks. I knew right away that this was a guy who was about as unsure about this "fitting in" thing as I was.

We've done a lot of things together, but it's the talking that I think has made him my best friend.
We talk about everything. When we talk about bullshit it's bullshit that means something to us. When we talk about important things, we truly talk about them, and it gets really great.

You see, Chris and I have a perfect balance of being completely opposite and having a lot in common. I think actually we have pretty much the same psyche and personality, but had completely different backgrounds and experiences.
And he's a heck of a lot smarter than he gives himself credit for.
We tend to stand on opposite sides of the fence on most issues, and that's a good thing.

What's good about it is that when we have conversations, we LISTEN to each other. He's my friend because frankly very few other people make me feel like that. We have deep respect for each other. When I open my mouth to say something, I can actually see in his expression that even though what I'm about to say may be something he currently disagrees strongly with, it's going to be something worth listening to. I can even see that he knows it COULD be something that will change his mind. (I hope he can see the same thing in me when he speaks.)

He's one of only two people in my life I've ever gotten to say, "you know, I really never did think about it like that before... you might be right." He's also one of the few people I've said it to. (The other person only ever said it once, it seems like Chris and I say it fairly often.)

So that was Virginia. The world wasn't changed that day, but it was plotted. And then we slept in.

As I said before, I was really winging it. My initial plan was to arrive in New York Sunday afternoon and set up a camp for the next couple of days and then arrive ready for anything at 8 am Monday. The unexpected duration of Friday's ride, however, got me thinking. From Petersburg, VA to Syracuse, NY was now probably going to take me at least an hour longer than expected, putting it at over 10 hours. I knew that I wouldn't leave early enough to be confident that I could arrive before the office of the place I planned to camp was closed.
So I borrowed $20 from my friend to help out with an unplanned expense, and called my Mom to get her to look online for the cheapest hotel near my destination.

And once again I found some good highway music, probably something like "Blood Sugar Sex Magic," and got back out onto my least favorite highway.
It was a decent ride that day. Same ol' traffic story, yadda yadda... hairy through Richmond; managed to skirt the DC area gridlock-free.

Other things you notice/pay more attention to on motorcycles:
Not far into Pennsylvania I started noticing more deer crossing signs. About halfway through Pennsylvania I started seeing dead deer. I saw a few live ones too, but not close to the highway.
I slowed my roll a little bit and tightened up my thinking cap.

Also at about that same point I was noticing a few more hills here and there.
And the countryside was beautiful!

Once I crossed the line into NY I started seeing even more deer crossing signs and unfortunate deer. It never occured to me at the beginning to start counting, because obviously I didn't realize I'd see so many, but I know I must have seen at the very least a dozen deer carcasses on the highway that day. It's a real wakeup call to a motorcyclist (percentage of animal/car collisions that result in death to occupants of the car: 2%; for motorcycles it's over 80%) .

I was to decide later that the sign posted on the highways entering NY should say:
"Welcome to New York"
"Deer Crossing!!!"
"No Left Turn"
"No U Turn"

I had also decided that I would give my bike a name at some point on this trip. I had expected it to come from some experience or something that I would have while in NY. But it sort of came to me on that Sunday during one of my breaks, while I was just sitting there gazing at it. With sort of a description/monologue:

People tend to give their bikes female names, which I think stems from the tradition of doing the same with boats. While I can see the correlation for cars, I see my bike more like a "mount" than like a "vessel." More like a buddy than a lover. It's more like a horse than a boat.
Horses don't have to be male or female necessarily, it's just whichever one you pick.
But I think my bike is different from even that. It transcends gender.
It is neither male nor female.
It is bike.
And its name is Sugar.

(It's the glorified wheelbarrow pictured in my profile, a brilliant and beautiful pearl white.)

Not long after entering NY the view ahead and rolling terrain under my rubber made me realize something that hadn't occured to me in all my haste to get ready and come up here, even when looking at the map (it was just a road map after all). I was heading into mountainous territory!
I'm glad I somehow allowed that to be a surprise to me, it was a very good one. Mountains and motorcycles go together like, well, Bonnie and Clyde. And so far I'd had very little chance to enjoy them since getting a bike.

The scenery got nicer and nicer as I went, and eventually my cheeks began to cramp.

I arrived in Baldwinsville, NY and had trouble finding the hotel from the directions my Mom had given me on the phone. It turned out it wasn't the directions, it was the road. It was a small highway that goes all the way through town and then crosses the main highway again, and in the process it makes 3 turns. By the second turn my directions were definitely "off," but it turned out that I needed the SECOND exit for the same highway. And there I thought I was in the Twilight Zone.

I got to the hotel at about 9, this time unpacking the whole bike for just a night because I didn't want to leave "everything I have" out in a parking lot. I went and got some fast food to go (I'm not proud of it) and then read from "Catcher In The Rye" for about an hour before going to bed at about 11 - pretty early for me, but I wanted to be bright-eyed in the morning.

I had made up my mind to do a lot of reading this summer. I love to do it, but I've fallen out of the habit. I wound up reading 8 books while I was in NY... camping a whole lot made it kinda easy. I'll mention them all in a separate blog sometime.

I easily awoke early Monday morning without snoozing (extremely rare). I had a few cups of coffee and a free continental breakfast of starches, sugar and orange juice, and got everything packed and bungeed back onto the bike.

I then reversed my directions back to the highway where I picked up where I left off on those to the address of the company I'd be working for. This took me a few miles to another exit, a few turns outside of town and a couple more miles to a warehouse/office pretty much around the corner from the hotel.
That was the Monday morning on which I learned the real difference between navigating with meticulously written directions, and doing so with a map.

View First NY map in a larger map

I did the "good first impression" thing and showed up plenty early. I'd been told 8am, I got there at about 7:35. I rolled into the gravel lot just in time to see a big fella getting into a tractor-trailer and rolling out of it.
Then I waited.
And I waited a little more.

I've never worked anywhere where at least one person, usually the boss, didn't show up early. At about 7:50 I started thinking, "well, there's not going to be anyone here to notice that I showed up impressively early, so much for first impressions." At 8 I figured something must be amiss, as I knew this was a busy week for the company... it didn't make much sense that EVERYone would be late but the FNG (the "fuckin' new guy," as I would be called until a nickname I was given later stuck on). The only phone number I had was for the office, but I already knew that number forwarded to Mark's phone when no one was there, so I dialed it at precisely 8:00.

It turns out, as we did most of the time at that company, everyone was meeting AT the jobsite, Onondaga Community College. (Incidentally, another rider I know from the aforementioned internet forum works at said college, and I was looking forward to meeting him too.)

This was a perfectly normal misunderstanding, and Mark told me it was fine that I'd now obviously be late. (Heck, I'd never discussed the location of anything with him, I went by the address I was originally given by my friend, Mike. Kinda funny now that I think about it, that Mark never even asked if I knew where he was located... I just "showed up" as if by magic.)

It was too bad I hadn't known to follow the tractor-trailer, that's exactly where it was heading. So then I had my first experience with Mark's strange and unusual way of giving directions. He told me (I'm not quoting) to turn right onto the road, then after about 3 miles I turned left onto NY-173. He said to stay on that until I came to *a couple of other landmarks* and a park with soccer fields on my left; stop at the park and call him again.
I stopped at the park, shut off the bike, took off my helmet and gloves, and called him again to get the rest of the directions. It's a good thing he split it up, because I probably never could have remembered it all. I was to stay on 173 until I saw Onondaga Community College on my right. And turn into it. (Once I was in there it would be obvious enough where a stage was being erected.)

That was a nice little morning ride. NY-173, though pretty much just a normal country road, was much more enjoyable than what I'm used to in Eastern Georgia. The villages (we don't have "villages" in GA either) have more space and nice, sweeping curves between them. The scenery is lovely and dense with vegetation, and even most of the villages themselves could be called "scenery." Nature's Show always seems fresh and new when you travel a long distance, the trees and everything are different from what you're used to seeing all the time. Your whole world can change shape and color and it's easy to rediscover the awe of it all, if you'd forgotten it or begun to take it for granted.
I was wide awake, in mind and body, by the time I arrived at the gig that morning.

I found the parking lot where they all were and rolled into a parking spot. I took a minute to remove all my gear - helmet, gloves, jacket and assless chaps* (all the gear, all the time baby), then went over to where the work was happening with a big, friendly, "good morning gentlemen!" I walked over to the guy with the deepest voice (Mark has a deep voice) who had the demeanor of one who's in charge and said, "Hi, I'm Michael. Are you Mark?"

Greg's reply was (and I am quoting this time), "that's not me, the guy you wanna impress is over there." Not particularly cordial, but not really unfriendly, and he hardly glanced up from his work as he said it.
I'm sure at least a few of these guys already knew a little bit about me and that I was coming, but I realized a few minutes later that they had also put out an open labor call in the local paper for that morning. At that point I could have just been any ol' flunky strolling up looking for a few days of work.

This turned out to be a really great group of guys to work with, and they did get friendly pretty quick upon realizing I was "that guy." As usually goes with these situations everything gets even friendlier once they realize that you're really there to work, and that you know your shit, as I would soon set about demonstrating.

I did have a very slight disadvantage with this particular crew, though. I had told Mark that "I want to work," and that I was very capable of being involved in the whole process, but it was also known that my primary focus is as a "tech." A Sound Guy. And this was the build crew (and light tech, because his stuff has to go up WITH the stage, sound comes later because it goes ON the stage). The general feeling amongst the "work" crew about the techs is that they don't tend to be really useful to them. Sound guys in particular don't seem to feel like they have to always be involved in the "heavy lifting."**

And really, we don't. For lots of reasons... the most basic of which is that one of the reasons you learn a highly technical and creative skill like Sound Engineering is so that you can work with your mind instead of your muscles (which works out great for a guy like me who's mind is stronger than my muscles). Another is the fact that the techs are likely to be there a LOT longer than anyone else, and the LAST thing they'll do is the one that will require them to be at their absolute best that day. It really goes against how a "workday" works, having to do your best work when you're most tired. Imagine working for 16 hours straight, and THEN the main act takes the stage. That's what you've gotta be able to handle if you want to be even a decent sound or light tech. (There will be more on this later.)

BUT... most soundguys WILL help with the heavy stuff when it's necessary for them to, and they're also usually the guy who knows exactly how everything goes in the truck.

So, that's about what these guys were expecting from me, a fact that I was already intuitively aware of. This actually could have given me an unfair ADvantage in that lowered expectations might have made it a little easier to impress them. I assure you, however, that I need no such advantage. I actually enjoy doing the "other than sound" work involved in putting together a show, including building the stage. Hey, some of it is hard work, but I also get to climb around on stuff!

* Heh heh... "assless chaps."
I had my first bike about a month before it suddenly occurred to me that I should be wearing more protective gear than just a helmet. I then set about getting my body covered, quickly. I didn't really put a whole lot of thought into what was "best," I just hastily got some things to cover my precious skin. I had the chaps about a week before I thought of the idea that, really, it was probably my butt that was most likely to really get hurt (though I then got into a wreck a few months later and hurt my knee and ankle, and bruised my hip, all of which were covered by the chaps), and at some point I should get some full leather pants instead of just the chaps. I still haven't gotten around to doing that.

** I've found that often those that do the "thinking" work and those that do the "heavy" work don't have a lot of respect for each other, even if they're on the same team. Since I've had the opportunity to work on both sides I've learned that it's mostly because of simple ignorance: they don't see "everything" the other side does - it's because they each don't realize the value of the other, not because one is more valuable than the other.